SALEM, OR -- Oregon’s unemployment rate continues to hover just above record lows. State employment economist Nick Beleiciks says May’s statewide rate was just a tenth of a percent above the previous month. "The current rate of 5.3% is in the range that Oregon’s unemployment rate typically is during an expansion. The last time Oregon’s unemployment rate dropped lower than this was in 1995, when it dropped down to 4.7%."
Experts speculate the slight uptick in May could be a reaction to strong gains in recent months. Oregon’s mild and dry winter helped many seasonal workers stay on the job. For example, Construction employment stood at its highest May total in seven years.
Oregon lost about 1,400 jobs last month, mostly in the retail trade sector. But, it’s not necessarily bad news. Despite the one-month decline, Beleiciks says overall employment is up nearly 3% from this time last year. "With the unemployment rate being so low, a lot of people are waiting to see some real increase in average wages, and that is happening. That’s happening across the US and in Oregon. Over the last year, average hourly earnings increased 2.2% - that turns out to be real wage gains for the average worker in Oregon."
Beleiciks says that means employers weren’t hiring as many workers as they typically would this time of year. "Oregon’s labor force participation rate is at a historically low level. It’s at 60.5% right now. However, this was largely expected based on population dynamics as more baby boomers reach retirement age and leave the labor force, and that naturally brings down the labor force participation rate."
Central Oregon's regional unemployment numbers for May are due out next week.